Alberta Premier Jason Kenney apologized Monday that a working dinner on the balcony of the so-called Sky Palace didn’t always follow the COVID-19 health restrictions.
He said Monday that a meeting was planned and he decided it would be more “prudent” to have it outside instead of inside.
“I was of the clear view that we were compliant with the ‘Open For Summer’ rules, but it is clear some of us were not distanced the whole night.
“I have to take responsibility for that.”
The politicians tried to observe the rules but later measured the distance between the chairs, Kenney said. Two of them were spaced less than two metres apart and others shifted closer together throughout the evening, he explained.
“And there’s no doubt that over the course of the evening, people came within the two-metre distance that’s laid out in the public health guidelines.”
The premier said he thought gathering outside was safer than having the meeting indoors but admitted the distancing rule wasn’t constantly “scrupulously” followed.
“We should have taken extra precautions to be distanced,” Kenney said Monday.
“I sincerely apologize. I take full responsibility.”
The premier said he’s tried to abide by all the public health measures in the last 16 months but has made mistakes.
He said he won’t be doing any gatherings of any kind until Stage 3 of the “Open For Summer” strategy.
He said he regrets the decision and the “perception” it caused.
The “working dinner” included Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Government House Leader and Minister of Environment and Parks Jason Nixon, along with other political staffers, according to the premier’s office.
Under Stage 1 of Alberta’s summer reopening plan, outdoor dining is limited to four people from one household per table, or three people if they are all living alone and sitting with their designated close contacts.
While outdoor gatherings — which the premier’s office referred to the dinner as in response to journalists’ questions — are limited to 10 people in this stage of reopening, the government recommends they be from only two households.
Kenney said Monday there were six people at the dinner, using four tables.
The premier said he’s held meetings on that patio several times over the last 16 months because meeting outside is safer than meeting indoors.
“For the past 16 months, I have tried hard to observe the public health rules,” Kenney said Monday. “I thought it was important for me to lead by example. But I have to admit, I haven’t always done that perfectly.”
Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley accused Kenney of delivering a hollow apology to save himself from the rising discord from within his own ranks.
“No one is perfect, I understand that,” Notley said during question period. “But the premier isn’t actually sorry he broke the rules. He’s not sorry that he mocked this house (last week) and he’s not sorry he gaslit the public.
“He’s sorry that Albertans won’t stand for it.
“This isn’t sincere. This is self-serving. How can Albertans trust him when he won’t tell the truth until his own grip on power is what’s under threat?”
There’s also been pushback from Kenney’s own UCP.
Deputy Speaker Angela Pitt said Albertans were concerned about “the hypocrisy of senior officials breaking their own rules.” UCP backbencher Dave Hanson endorsed her comments and noted that Kenney had previously promised to evict from caucus any members who broke COVID-19 health orders.
In a post on her personal Facebook page Saturday, Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women Leela Aheer called Kenney’s Sky Palace dinner with a number of other cabinet ministers hurtful and frustrating.
“I am confused and, like you, extremely hurt, and I’m so sorry for any pain, anger, or frustration this may have caused you,” Aheer wrote.
“All of us make mistakes, but this one is a big one, and I am truly sorry.”
Aheer recognized Albertans’ compliance with COVID-19 restrictions and their willingness to “maneuvre, pivot and adapt to the rules put in place by our government.”
“I can only imagine how disappointed you must be. Our leadership should sincerely apologize.”
Speaking to radio station RED FM in an interview Global News translated from Punjabi, Minister of Community and Social Services and MLA for Calgary North East Rajan Sawhney said she, too, was disappointed to see the photos of the dinner.
Sawhney’s riding has seen high rates of COVID-19 infections and low rates of COVID-19 vaccinations throughout the pandemic, which prompted the creation of a walk-in, low-barrier immunization clinic in the area over the weekend.
“I would never (be at that dinner). Because… think about this: what’s my riding? Where are the most (case) numbers? Where is the most impact? Where has been the biggest pain?” she said.
“And this photo… my photo like this you will not see, because I would never do this.
“If a mistake is made, then one should apologize.”
On Monday, UCP backbencher Richard Gotfried resigned as chairman of the UCP Calgary caucus so he could speak his mind on “principle, ethics and government/caucus operations.”
Also Monday, former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean said on Facebook that it is time Kenney resign for the good of the UCP. Jean said he came to that conclusion after watching the premier “take another relatively minor issue and turn it into a political crisis.”
The Wildrose Party under Jean and the Progressive Conservatives under Kenney joined forces in 2017 to become the UCP. Jean lost to Kenney in a subsequent leadership vote.
— With files from Heide Pearson, Global News, and the Canadian Press